Not currently on display at the V&A

Box

1540-1560 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Both the materials and the design of this box show the influence of the Islamic world upon the manufacture of luxury objects in Italy in the 16th century. The trade routes between states like Venice and the cities of the eastern Mediterranean resulted in a two-way cultural exchange that profoundly affected art and design. The geometric inlay of coloured woods and bone is similar in style to the designs found on tiles and stained glass from Turkey, but is known in Italy as marquetry alla certosina after the Certosina church in Pavia which houses a famous altarpiece decorated in this way. This box was perhaps intended for storing toilet items or jewellery, and inside the lid it has a mirror, which though modern, may be a replacement for an original glass that got damaged.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Softwood, veneered with woods including ebony and bone (some stained green)
Brief Description
With domed top, the whole inlaid with coloured woods and bone (some stained), Venice c1550
Physical Description
Box with arched lid, the exterior decorated with geometrical marquetry in bone (some stained green), ivory and wood, and with interlaced border bands. Lined with a red woven fabric with scrolling leaf pattern, probably of 19th century date. The hinged lid fitted internally with a mirror (19th century), retained by ebony mouldings. On low, 'bracket' feet.



The lock and hinges 19th century.
Dimensions
  • Height: 24cm
  • Depth: 27.8cm
  • Width: 44.7cm
measured closed 4/10/2010
Style
Object history
Bought for £8. No further information is recorded regarding the acquisition of this object.



Displayed in the Ornament gallery until 2004



This box was probably made in Venice in about 1550. The mosaic inlay on the lid resembles Islamic patterns, which reflect close trading contacts between Venice and the Eastern Mediterranean. However, the stars and hexagons on the front and sides are strikingly similar to those on the body of an undated lute (Museum no. 193-1882) made by Marx Unverdorber, a German craftsman living Venice, who flourished around this time. This is an interesting example of creating a three dimensional effect by juxtaposing lighter and darker pieces of wood – an art at which the Italians excelled.
Historical context
This type of geometric tarsia was found in Islamic Spain, where it was produced as early as the 10th century; the workshops of Cordoba and later Granada seem to have specialised in the technique. (See J.Bloom et al.: exh. cat. The Minbar from the Kutubiyya Mosque (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), pp.20-22; Mariam Rosser-Owen, Islamic Arts from Spain (London 2010), p.65) It was used for large objects such as pulpits and doors, and small objects such as combs, caskets, and possibly gamesboards though none have survived.



The technique was used from the early 14th century in Italy (often described as 'certosina' work), on objects associated with the Venetian Embriachi workshop, which typically combined geometrical marquetry with low relief figurative panels carved in bone, on altarpieces and domestic objects such as caskets and gamesboards. The term tarsia derives from the Arabic 'tarsi', meaning 'incrustation'.



To make the tiles, thin rods of different coloured woods and bone, pre-cut into shapes such as squares and triangles, were glued together lengthwise and then sawn across the 'grain' into tiles. This technique was less labour intensive than another technique of assembling tiny pieces into a mosaic. (See See J. Bloom et al.: exh. cat. The Minbar from the Kutubiyya Mosque (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), pp.7-14 and 93; A. Wilmering, The Gubbio Studiolo and its conservation, II: Italian renaissance intarsia and the conservation of the Gubbio Studiolo (New York, 1999), p.64; Rosser Owen p.64



Peter Thornton, in The Italian Renaissance Interior 1400-1600 (London 1991), p.92 suggests that geometric inlay (also developed as marquetry), in a style derived from the Near East, was confined to small panels until the early 15th century. He uses the term 'lavoro di intarsio', noting 9n.6) that 'allo certosino' is the frequently used 20th century term: "It was such a widespread technique that it cannot have been confined to workshops in Carthusian monasteries - or to monasteries generally. On the other hand, a surprising number of monks became celebrated experts in the fully-developed [figurative] 'lavoro di intarsio' during the second half of the 15th century. Many travelled and set up workshops whenever needed; few were confined to monasteries during their active life."



Comparable caskets

V&A 936-1904

See NEW YORK, l’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, Inc.: Tempting Pandora: A Selection of European Boxes, 1200 – 1800, p.42 (attributed Po Valley, 1440-80);

Tra/E: Teche, pissidi, cofani e forzieri dall’Alto Medioevo al Barocco, exhibition catalogue, curated by Pietro Lorenzelli and Alberto Veca (Galleria Lorenzelli, Bergamo Oct-Dec 1984 and Antiquaria, London March-April 1985), p258ff (Embriachi school, early 15th century)

Luciana Martini, “Bottega degli Embriachi” cofanetti e cassettine tra Gotico e Rinascimento, catalogue to an exhibition at Brixiantiquaria, Brescia 17-25 November 2001, esp. nos.11, 14, with suggested dating to the 15th century, possibly 1400-1450.

Box with flat lid attrib. North Italy c1400-30 (inv. o.1966.GP.33 (18 x 43.5 x 30.7cm), in John Lowden, Medieval and Later Ivories in The Courtauld Galleries (2013), no
Subject depicted
Summary
Both the materials and the design of this box show the influence of the Islamic world upon the manufacture of luxury objects in Italy in the 16th century. The trade routes between states like Venice and the cities of the eastern Mediterranean resulted in a two-way cultural exchange that profoundly affected art and design. The geometric inlay of coloured woods and bone is similar in style to the designs found on tiles and stained glass from Turkey, but is known in Italy as marquetry alla certosina after the Certosina church in Pavia which houses a famous altarpiece decorated in this way. This box was perhaps intended for storing toilet items or jewellery, and inside the lid it has a mirror, which though modern, may be a replacement for an original glass that got damaged.
Bibliographic Reference
Ancient and Modern Furniture & Woodwork in the South Kensington Museum, described with an introduction by John Hungerford Pollen, (London, 1874), p. 30. Box. Marquetry of coloured wood, bone, and ivory, black and White chequered panels, border of interlaced bands; semicircular cover Italian, Venetian. 16th century. H. 9 ¾ in., L. 17 ½ in., W. 11 in. Bought, 8l.
Collection
Accession Number
2568-1856

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record createdSeptember 5, 2006
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